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Health advocates file petition for mass testing

By Joseph Cuevas

Health professionals, workers and women filed a petition before the Supreme Court last Friday, July 3, asking the executive branch to implement mass testing and provide accurate and reliable data to the people on the coronavirus 19 or Covid-19.

Citing the people’s right to health under the Philippine Constitution,  the petition for a writ of mandamus shall compel the Department of Health and other agencies to conduct pro-active mass testing, aggressive contract tracing and effective isolation, and treatment of Covid-19 positive cases to contain the spread of the virus.

The 74-page petition was filed by Citizens’ Urgent Response to End Covid-19 (CURE COVID) spokesperson Judy Taguiwalo; Coalition for the People’s Right to Health convenor Dr. Joshua San Pedro; Bahaghari bational spokesperson Rey Valmores-Salinas; Migrante International chairperson Joanna Celeste Concepcion; GABRIELA Network of Professionals secretary general Lovely Ramos; Drug, Food and Allied Workers Federation-Kilusang Mayo Uno secretary general Debie Faigmani; BPO Industry Employees Network president Mylene Cabalona; Alliance of Concerned Teachers-National Capital Region Union president Vladimer Queta; UP-Pantranco Driver’s Association vice-president Ernesto Lizada; homemaker Marites Arboleda; and K-12 student Via Leigh Hernandez.

The petition is seeks “accurate, timely and complete information with regards to Covid-19 situation including onset of symptoms, history of exposure, co-morbidities, whether the subject is a medical frontliner, data when specimen is collected and actual case validation backlog from the government.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, counsel of the petitioners, said that the omission of proactive and efficient mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a systemic and normalized violation of the right to health engenders the impairment of other human rights and liberties, such as the rights to travel, livelihood or work, education, and access to justice

In a statement, CURE COVID pointed out that many health experts said that mass testing is very important in the country’s response to the pandemic.

Mass testing enables countries to identify the extent of the virus’ transmissions among the populace, the group said.

It added that with honest and prompt information, governments can systematically and scientifically trace, isolate and treat the infected and contain the transmission.

“Unfortunately, the [Rodrigo] Duterte administration has fallen very short of doing this. Last April 3, retired general Carlito Galvez, chief implementor of the National Task Force on Covid-19 (NTF Covid), announced that the government will implement mass testing by April 15. This obviously did not happen, as the number of testing needed to ascertain the extent of Covid-19 transmissions has consistently fallen short of the NTF’s very own targets,” CURE COVID added.

The group also said instead of mass testing, tracing, isolation and treatment, the government heavily relied on a militarist response to the pandemic, putting the country under the world’s longest lockdown that resulted to abuses, unnecessary restrictions and undue curtailment of civil liberties.

According to the health department, 38,805 have been infected that resulted in 1,274 recorded deaths as of Friday. #

‘It ain’t over yet’

“It ain’t over yet. We will not cease to exhaust any and all legitimate steps and platforms to challenge this draconian law. This without doubt is the most unpopular and perilous piece of legislation that could ever be pushed by a government that is fixated with the potion of power. In time, we will look back to this day of infamy and say the unbridled and terrorizing power of the government will always bend and retreat eventually when the people push back hard enough.”Atty. Edre U. Olalia, ‘Activist, not terrorist’

International lawyers groups call on Duterte to veto anti-terrorism bill

By Joseph Cuevas

Hundreds of lawyers and legal organizations from all the world expressed “deepest concern and consternation” over the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill of the Philippine government, which they criticize as violative of international laws.

In an open letter addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, justice secretary Menardo Guevarra and all members of the Philippine Congress, the groups said they are alarmed with potential abuses the measure will unleash upon the Filipino people once implemented.  

“We, the undersigned lawyers and legal organizations from around the world, write to express our deepest concern and consternation about the Anti-Terrorism Bill, also known as House Bill 6875 and Senate Bill 1093, which was apparently passed by a virtual vote in Congress and now transmitted to President Duterte to sign into law,” the groups said in the letter, dated June 11.

The lawyers urged Guevarra in his review of the bill to reject both versions Constitutional as well as procedural grounds and for Duterte to veto the measure.

They also urged members of Congress to withdraw their affirmative votes of the bills and act to protect the basic human rights of the Filipino people.

“The international community is alarmed by the apparent abuses of power and civil unrest that the law will bring about. It will suppress and criminalize free speech and dissent, label and punish political enemies as terrorists, and unjustly deprive them of basic internationally recognized human rights and due process,” the letter reads.

The lawyers said the bill contains overbroad and vague definitions of terrorism that not only criminalize freedom of speech, association, assembly, and the press.

They added that so-called safeguards included in the bill are weakened by the vague definitions of terrorism and protecting public safety and can actually serve to crush legitimate forms of protest, such as striking workers’ picket lines and peaceful mass demonstrations. #

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The full text of the letter:

June 11, 2020

Dear President Rodrigo Duterte, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and members of the Congress of the Philippines:

We, the undersigned lawyers and legal organizations from around the world, write to express our deepest concern and consternation about the Anti-Terrorism Bill, also known as House Bill 6875 and Senate Bill 1093, which was apparently passed by a virtual vote in Congress and now transmitted to President Duterte to sign into law. In this crucial moment, we urge the Justice Secretary to reject the bill on Constitutional as well as procedural grounds. Further, we urge President Duterte to veto the bill. For members of the Congress, if you are recorded as voting yes, we urge you to speak up and withdraw your vote. You all still have the opportunity to act to uphold and protect the basic human rights of the Filipino people.

The international community is alarmed by the apparent abuses of power and civil unrest that the law will bring about. It will suppress and criminalize free speech and dissent, label and punish political enemies as terrorists, and unjustly deprive them of basic internationally recognized human rights and due process. The bill greatly expands the powers of the executive by the creation of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), composed of presidential cabinet officials and retired generals who serve under the pleasure of the President, with the power to declare and proscribe organizations and parties as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers without ample and fair opportunity to be fully heard in a court of law. The bill also authorizes police or military to arrest people without a judicial warrant and detain and investigate a suspect without charges for a maximum of 24 days.

The bill contains overbroad and vague definitions of terrorism that not only criminalize virtually all acts of freedom of speech, association, assembly, and the press, but also criminalize intent justified by baseless, politically motivated accusations. The so-called safeguards included in the bill that claim to protect the people’s freedoms are weakened by the vague definitions of terrorism and protecting public safety and can actually serve to crush “legitimate” forms of protest, such as striking workers’ picket lines and peaceful mass demonstrations.

This bill comes as the attention of the world has been drawn to the War on Drugs carried out by the current administration. These policies have authorized police and armed vigilantes to kill tens of thousands of mostly poor people with impunity. A report mandated by a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution to investigate the Philippines’ human rights situation was released recently on June 4th and concluded that extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and barriers to accessing justice were already rampant, even before this bill was introduced.

The Anti-Terrorism Bill is unnecessary and is a tyrannical upgrade of the Philippines’s already existing Human Security Act. The bill largely contravenes the 1987 Constitution which was a democratic victory following the Filipino people’s ouster of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship and the end of Martial Law. It is abhorrent and immoral to pass this legislation while the global community is still suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino people do not deserve a state-sanctioned attack against their basic rights while they struggle to heal from the pandemic. Instead they deserve for their elected legislators to utilize their power, energy, and resources to fight for mass testing, healthcare, and economic relief.

Further, we are troubled that the Anti-Terrorism Bill was certified in a highly irregular manner. There are over 300 members of the House of Representatives. Only around 20 were present in person during the vote, with the rest voting remotely over Viber, and not a proper virtual platform. Multiple members have expressed that the votes they cast were different from the votes that were recorded. A few have withdrawn their vote since that time, stating that they did not have enough time to study the content of the bill before the vote. Therefore, at minimum, the certification of the bill should be rejected on a procedural basis to preserve the integrity of democracy. We oppose any intent to railroad this legislation when there are other more urgent matters being faced by the Filipino people that its government should act swiftly to address.

The Philippines has ratified the International Covenant on CIvil and Political Rights. Among the provisions of the Covenant is Article 19, which states: 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference and 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include the freedom to seek and receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. The Anti-Terrorism Bill violates all the rights that the Philippines has agreed to guarantee its people.

As legislators and officials of a democratic nation, we ask you to do justice for the Filipino people. The international community remembers the dark period of Philippine history under Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship and Martial Law. Just as we expressed support for the Filipino people’s rights then, we amplify the people’s call now to not repeat history. Say no to the Anti-Terrorism Bill. Say yes to honoring the Filipino people’s legacy of resisting tyrannical rule and defending democracy through any means. #

Organizational Signatories:
• International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL)
• Arab Lawyers Association (UK)
• Asociación Americana de Juristas

* Asociación Nacional de Abogados (ANAD) de México
• Asociación Venezolana de Juristas
• Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers
• Center for Research and Elaboration on Democracy (CRED)
• Central Arizona National Lawyers Guild
• Corporación Solidaridad Jurídica de Colombia
• Democratic Lawyers Association of Bangladesh (DLAB)
• FAI-Rade
• FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
• Filipinx Law Student Association at UC Davis School of Law
• Foundation Day of the Endangered Lawyer
• Group for International Legal Intervention (GIGI)
• Haldane Society for Socialist Lawyers
• International Commission on Labor Rights (ICLR)
• Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice
• National Association of Democratic Lawyers of South Africa (NADEL)
• National Lawyers Guild (United States)
• National Lawyers Guild – NY Chapter
• National Lawyers Guild – International Committee
• People’s Law Office-International Office
• PROGRESS Lawyers Network (Belgium)
• Progressive Lawyers Association – Turkey (ÇHD)
• SURES – Venezuela
• Ukrainian Association of Democratic Lawyers


Individual Signatories:
• Alihan Pilaf, Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD), Izmir Turkey
• Aliya Karmali, Oakland, CA
• Angela Cornell, Cornell University Law School, Ithaca, New York, USA
• Ashwini Sukthankar,New York, USA
• Asia Parks, NLG GA, Atlanta, Ga, USA
• Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal & Advocacy Director, Project South. Past president, National Lawyers Guild., Atlanta
• Basawa Prasad Kunale, Bengaluru, India
• Beth S. Lyons, IADL, New Jersey, U.S
• Brittany Burback, Sublime Law, Phoenix, AZ

* Bruce Nestor, National Lawyers Guild – Minnesota Chapter, Minneapolis, MN
• Ceren Uysal, Progressive Lawyers Association, Vienna
• Ceren Yilmaz, CHD , Ankara, Türkiye
• Charlotte Kates, National Lawyers Guild International Committee, Vancouver, Canada
• Chloe Czabaranek, San Jose, CA, USA
• Coleen Rowley, retired FBI Division Legal Counsel, Apple Valley, MN, USA
• Court M. Lee, Esq., Sige! LGBTQIA+ Filipinos, Astoria, USA
• Daniel Meyers, Natiomal Lawyers Guild -NYC, New York
• David L. Mandel, National Lawyers Guild, Sacramento
• Dianne Post, Facilitator, Central Arizona National Lawyers Guild, Phoenix, AZ, USA
• Eduardo R.C. Capulong, CUNY School of Law, NY, USA
• Elvan Olkun, Kocaeli Türkiye
• Emily Brandt, NLG Fresno Chapter, Fresno
• Erdogan Akdogdu, ÇHD, Izmir / Turkey
• Evelyn Dürmayer, IADL representative at the UN in Vienna
• Felicity Gerry QC, Crockett Chambers and Deakin Uni, Melbourne and Carmelite Chambers, London, Melbourne, Australia
• Gilbert Saucedo, National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles
• Halime Senli, Antalya, Turkey
• Hoda Mitwally, New York City, United States
• Huwaida Arraf, Esq., civil/human rights attorney, Macomb
• Jackelyn Mariano, National Lawyers Guild, International Committee, Elmhurst, NY, USA
• Jaclyn Quiles-Nohar,Queens, NY
• Jan Fermon, Secretary General, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
• Jeanne Mirer, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
• Jeffrey Frank, National Lawyers Guild, Chicago, USA
• Jeffrey Petrucelly, National Lawyers Guild, Boston, Suffolk County, MA, USA
• Jerome P. Wallingford, San Diego, California USA
• Jet Orbida, PeacePond Farmers Assoc., Binalbagan, Negros Occidental, Philippines
• Jo Dereymaeker, PROGRESS Lawyers Network, Antwerp, Belgium
• Johanna Gusman, Human Rights Lawyer/Activist , Washington, DC USA
• John I. Laun, Laun Law Offices, Middleton, Wisconsin, U.S.A.
• John Philo, Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, Detroit
• John Witeck, Hawaii Workers Center, Honolulu
• Judith Mirkinson, National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco, CA, USA
• Judy Somberg, National Lawyers Guild, USA, Cambridge, MA, USA

* Sasamoto, Secretary General, Confederation of Lawyers of Asia and the Pacific (COLAP)
• Kari Rudd, San Francisco
• Karla Maria Moreno, National Lawyers Guild, Miami, United States
• Kathy Johnson, National Lawyers Guild
• Katrina Asuncion, Filipinx Law Students Association, UC Davis School of Law, Davis, CA, United States of America
• Kristina Mazzocchi, MM&J, PLLC, Brooklyn, NY, USA
• Lamis J. Deek, J.D. , Global Justice & Human Rights Law Network, National Lawyers Guild, New York
• Larry Redmond, National Lawyers Guild, Chicago
• Louis Dussan – Presidente, Asociacion Americana de Juristas Rama Colombia, Bogota Colombia
• Luís Carlos Moro, from Brazil and General Secretary of American Association of Jurists.
• Marie-Claude St-Amant, Montreal, Canada
• Marjan Kris Abubo, Davis, United States
• Marjorie Cohn, National Lawyers Guild, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
• Mark Stern, NLG IC, Somerville Massachusetts
• Max Boqwana, National Association of Democratic Lawyers of South Africa (NADEL)
• Maximiliano Garcez, Advocacia Garcez, Brasília, Brazil
• Mehmet Altuntas, CHD, Mersin, Turkey
• Mürsel Ünder, Cagdas Hukukcular Dernegi , Turkey
• Naim Eminoglu, ÇHD (Progressive Lawyear Association), Ankara, Turkey
• Natalie González, Esq., New York, USA
• Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, National Lawyers Guild, New York
• Nergiz Tuba Aslan, CHD, Izmir, Turkey
• Philip Althouse, National Lawyers Guild, International Committee, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
• Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College, University of London; Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Colchester, England
• Raymond Lahoud, Esquire, Norris McLaughlin, P.A., Allentown, PA
• Ria Julien, Sugar Law Center, New York, NY
• Richard P. Koch, National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco
• Robert Atkins, UK
• Sabah al-Mukhtar, President, Arab Lawyers Association (UK), London
• Sefa Aydogan, Turkey
• Seraldi Seda, ÇHD, Turkey Istanbul

* Susan Scott, National Lawyers Guild, Inverness, California
• Suzanne Adely, National Lawyers Guild, Yonkers
• Thomas Schmidt, European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH), Düsseldorf, Germany
• Troy Osaki, Seattle, USA
• Ugur Esat Kesküs, CHD (Turkiye), Istanbul / Turkiye
• Ümit Büyükdag, ÇHD, Türkiye
• Urko Aiartza, Eskubideak, (Basque Democratic Lawyers assoc. ) &ELDH, Donostia, Basque Country
• Vanessa Ramos, Asociación Americana de Juristas, New York
• Vannalee Cayabyab, Filipinx Law Student Association at UC Davis School of Law, Davis, CA, USA
• William Quigley, Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans, Loyola University New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana US
• Yevgenii Gerasymenko, PhD, Ukrainian Association of Democratic Lawyers

‘Outrageous instance of double standard and selective justice’

“BGEN Sinas has the gall to violate quarantine rules and publicly display thoughtless extravagance at a time when many people are jobless, hungry and desperately waiting for government aid.

The PNP is unrelenting in its crackdown on ordinary people for purported violations of the law and quarantine rules, which its officials and personnel are themselves breaking. This is nothing but a glaring, shameless and outrageous instance of double standard and selective justice.”

Atty. Ephraim B. Cortez

Secretary-General,

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Carlo Francisco

‘Lawyers must serve justice incessantly’

Congratulatory message of NUPL in regards to the 2019 Bar Exam result:

“There is no “new normal” in rudimentary notions of fairness, equity, justice. Only new perspectives and new approaches from the lens of the people and not the powerful.

Lawyers must serve justice and complain incessantly against everything that is wrong in our society. In the right way, for the right reasons, in the right place, at the right time.

CONGRATULATIONS!”

Atty. Edre U. Olalia
President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers

Jo Maline Mamangun

Lawyers vs lawyer: Calida’s attack against reporter-lawyer Navallo earns objections

The country’s top public lawyer earned the objection of his fellow lawyers after publicly castigating another lawyer while filing a petition questioning how media giant ABS-CBN had been implementing its franchises at the Supreme Court last Monday, February 10.

While being asked by ABS-CBN reporter and lawyer Mike Navallo for an interview, Solicitor General Jose Calida confronted him for allegedly “always criticizing” him in the news.

The lawyers’ group National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said Calida wore a stoic expression when he reprimanded the reporter but used an arrogant tone as “he condescendingly challenged the young but unperturbed Navallo to practice law and face him in court.”

Navallo calmly replied to Calida that he was “only doing his job.”

“Calida’s actions – without doubt condoned if not encouraged and goaded by President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s persistent threats against the media outfit – reveal an attempt at censorship and prior restraint, masked as a perfectly legal action to ‘put an end… to highly abusive practices,’” the NUPL said.

The solicitor general is the official chief legal counsel to President Duterte—himself a lawyer—and the entire executive branch of government.

The NUPL added that Calida’s “feudal treatment” of a fellow lawyer based on his self-professed superiority does not speak well neither of the office he represents nor of the profession.

The human rights lawyers group added that “Calida’s showcase of power exposes this government’s utter disrespect of the people’s right to a free and independent press, and its unqualified intolerance to dissent, disapproval of any diversion from the official line, and aversion to critical yet constructive views, opinions and ideas.”

“It fits right into the mold of presidential tantrums in tandem with legislative collusion. We pray that the judiciary does not become a party to this outrageous lawfare,” NUPL said.

“History will judge all these disingenuous legal assaults against freedoms and liberties the way they deserve. In time, everyone will be given his due,” the group warned.

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Atty. Theodore Te also came to the defense of the reporter, saying Navallo is a good lawyer.

“[Navallo] is a better lawyer than he is a reporter and he is one of the best reporters I know,” Te wrote on his twitter account.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) earlier condemned Calida’s actions, saying he “clearly overstepped the bounds of his office when he turned personal against Navallo” who was on coverage.

The NUJP said Calida was being boorish, “a classic example of a government factotum who mistakes his position of authority as a license to throw his weight around.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

GRP, NDFP propose reciprocal unilateral ceasefires over the holidays

SAN VICENTE, Palawan–National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) representatives in Utrecht, The Netherlands have agreed to recommend the issuance of reciprocal unilateral ceasefires over the holidays.

A joint statement sent to Kodao by NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison says the proposed ceasefire declarations, if approved by NDFP Chairperson Mariano Orosa and GRP President Rodrigo Duterte, would be effective from midnight of December 23 to January 7.

“The ceasefires are intended to generate a positive environment conducive to the holding of informal talks preparatory to the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations,” the statement, signed last Saturday, December 21, reads.

“These shall be measures of goodwill and confidence building during the traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays,” it added.

Sison also posted photos of the informal talks in The Netherlands, the second since Duterte announced last December 5 that he has sent labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to Europe to try to reopen the stalled formal peace negotiations with the NDFP.

Only former agrarian reform secretary Hernani Braganza and his assistant Rhoda Ignacio were present in the December 21 meeting for the GRP however.

Saturday’s joint statement appears to be initialed in behalf of Bello and signed by Braganza in behalf of the GRP while negotiating panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili and senior adviser Luis Jalandoni signed in behalf of the NDFP.

Royal Norwegian Government’s Kristina Lie Revheim witnessed the document in her capacity as Third Party Facilitator.

The document adds that the parties shall separately issue the corresponding ceasefire orders.

“During the ceasefire period, the respective armed units and personnel of the Parties shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military operations against the other,” the statement explains. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pagsasalaysay ni Mary Jane, nalalapit na

Muling dininig sa Regional Trial Court sa Baloc, Sto Domingo, Nueva Ecija ang dalawang kasong nakasampa sa dalawang illegal recruiter na sina Cristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao para sa kasong Large Scale Illegal Recruitment na isinampa ng tatlong biktima na kapitbahay ng mga suspect, gayundin ang kasong isinampa naman ni Mary Jane Veloso na Illegal Recruitment, Human Trafficking at Estafa sa mga ito.

Sa darating na Enero 30, 2020 ay ang itinakdang promulgation o pagbaba ng hatol para sa kasong Large Scale Illegal Recruitment. Sa darating na Disyembre naman ang posibleng pagsasaayos ng pagtestigo ni Mary Jane para sa kaso na kanyang isinampa.

Hiling ng pamilya na huwag na sanang umapela pa ang mga defendant sa pagtestigo ni Mary Jane upang mapabilis na ang kaso. Panawagan na rin ng abogado sa gubyerno ng Indenesia na bigyan na ng amnestiya o pardon si Mary Jane upang makauwi na sa Pilipinas. (Bidyo ni Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)

Kaanak at tagasuporta, nanawagang payagang mag-testimonya si Mary Jane Veloso

Nagsagawa ng press conference ang mga kaanak, abugado at taga-suporta ni Mary Jane Veloso para magbigay ng update kaugnay sa deposition testimony niya sa Indonesia.

Kamakailan ay pinayagan ng Korte Suprema na magbigay ng deposition si Veloso mula sa kanyang piitan sa Indonesia. Ayon sa kanyang abugado, malaking bagay ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema para mapatunayang biktima ng human trafficiking si Veloso.

Nagpasalamat ang ama ni Mary Jane na si Cesar sa mga abugado at grupong patuloy na tumutulong sa kanyang anak. Hangad niya na makalaya na si Mary Jane at makapiling ang kanyang mga anak.

Nakatakda sa Oktubre 28 sa Cabanatuan RTC ang huling pagdinig ng prosekusyon laban sa mga illegal recruiter ni Veloso na sina Maria Kristina Sergio at Julius Lacanilao.

Si Veloso ay nakakulong sa Indonesia nang mahigit siyam na taon sa kasong pagpuslit ng ilegal na droga at nahatulan ng death penalty. Subalit noong 2015 ay ipinatigil ng gobyerno ng Indonesia ang pagbitay sa kanya matapos mahuli sa Pilipinas ang mga recruiter ni Veloso. (Music: News Background Bidyo ni: Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Peoples’ lawyers vow to continue defending human rights ‘alongside the poor and oppressed’

Public interest lawyers vowed to persevere in defending human rights as the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) holds its two-day national congress starting today in Manila.

Themed “Conquering Challenges in People’s Lawyering: Unifying Our Ranks to Strengthen the Protection and Advancement of Human Rights in the Face of Adversity,” the country’s top human rights lawyers said they are not fazed with the threats they face, even if some of their colleagues have paid for their advocacy with their very lives.

“We will win this battle against impunity because we are on the side of truth and the people,” NUPL chairperson Neri Colmenares said in his speech.

“In the line of fire is always a place of honor,” Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, quoting the late activist Lean Alejandro, told NUPL 5th Congress delegates in encouraging them against harassment.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his keynote speech praised the NUPL as the country’s most passionate human rights defenders even in the face of harassments and being in the line of fire.

“You do not only define public interest lawyering, you live it,” Leonen said.

Leonen added it is time the country recognizes the NUPL’s brand of lawyering and its passion for justice.

Established in 2007, the NUPL has grown from 89 to around 500 members spread across more than 50 chapters nationwide, taking on the most celebrated human rights cases in more than decade.

Lawyers for the oppressed

In his opening remarks, NUPL president Edre Olalia said the NUPL remains committed to peoples’ lawyering “for the demands and aspirations of the Filipino people, especially the poor and the oppressed.”

“We are the lawyers of the exploited, persecuted and marginalized. We are in the legal forefront in the fight against impunity. We are the ones on the ground as we fight in the legal trenches and foxholes,” he added.

Olalia called on his colleagues to close ranks and fight back against “vicious attacks, weaponization of the law by a blitzkreig of legal attacks.”

The guests in the event’s opening ceremonies include Concepcion Empeño and Erlinda Cadapan, mothers of University of the Philippines students Karen and Sherlyn abducted by retired Philippine Army Major General Jovito Palparan.

Also present were Raymond Manalo, Celia Veloso and mothers of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s  drug war.

In her speech, Veloso said their family could not contain their joy when the NUPL successfully convinced the Supreme Court to allow Mary Jane’s diposition, giving them hope the overseas Filipino worker may still be saved from execution in Indonesia.

Other guests included former Senator Rene Saguisag, Ateneo Law School dean Antonio Laviña and Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Egon Cayosa.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno gave the welcome remarks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)